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Your complete guide to choosing and setting up a VPN

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Your complete guide to choosing and setting up a VPN
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There's a moment in the 2019 release "Spider-Man Far From Home," where MJ (Spider-Man's love interest) says, "By the way, travel tip: You should probably download a VPN on your phones so the government can't track you while we're abroad."

Good advice MJ.

Kim has been extolling the benefits of VPN for years. In fact, on a recent trip to Europe, she used a VPN not only to protect her devices but also to allow her to stream her favorite TV and movies that were blocked in Europe. In this guide, we'll walk you through how VPNs work, how to set them up on Windows and Mac, and what to look for when shopping for VPNs.

We feature ExpressVPN, not only because they are a sponsor of The Kim Komando Show, but also because it's the easiest and best VPN we've found. And there's one feature we especially like, which you probably wouldn't have thought of: ExpressVPN works across multiple devices. You can use one account on five devices, regardless of platform.

Tap or click for a deal from ExpressVPN that Kim negotiated for you.

How VPNs work

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a layer of protection between your devices and the internet. It hides your IP address and your location, and it encrypts your data after it leaves your device and travels to whatever website you're visiting. Most importantly, when you are not at home or at work and you're using public Wi-Fi, a VPN provides an important layer of security.

vpn infographic from expressvpn

As the illustration above demonstrates, your device, whether it's a remote computer, smartphone or tablet, connects to the internet through some internet service provider.

If you're on an unsecured or public network, like at a coffee shop, airport, shopping mall, library or anywhere, really, you send up queries through "cyberspace," and they route through private networks to other computers or servers.

You open a door through which information is exchanged. Those servers send you information, and they pick up information about you, your IP address, your location, your device and a slew of other information.

A VPN blocks a two-way exchange of information. The IP address and location data come from the VPN host's server, so the servers on the other end learn nothing about you or your data.

What to look for in a VPN

You want a VPN that doesn't harvest and sell your information and one that works across devices. Most of all, it has to be easy to use. ExpressVPN checked off all the boxes in what Kim looks for in a VPN service:

  • Browse anonymously
  • Unblock websites, especially when traveling
  • Hide your IP address
  • Unlimited streaming (no data caps)
  • Use across multiple devices, regardless of operating system
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Fast
  • 24-hour chat help
  • No data harvesting

Setting up a VPN on Windows 10

It's pretty easy to set up a virtual private network with Windows 10. Want to skip this part and jump to VPN setup for Mac? Scroll down.

set up a vpn on windows 10

You start by clicking on the start button (window icon at the bottom of your screen on the left). Go to Settings then choose Network & Internet, then select VPN from the menu on the left.

set up vpn on windows 10

Click on Add a VPN Connection. Click on the down arrow button where it says VPN Provider and select the only option, which is Windows (built-in) and then type in whichever connection name you want.

set up a vpn on a windows computer

Type in the server name or address that your VPN has given you. Then select a VPN type like point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) or select Automatic to let Windows 10 choose it for you.

Choose User Name and Password under Type of Sign-In Info, unless your VPN provider instructs you to choose a different option. Type in a user name and password that you'll remember, then select Save.

Setting up Express VPN on Windows

If you use ExpressVPN, it's even easier to set up. We could walk you through the steps, but trust us when we say it's as easy as downloading the app, installing it and following the prompts. Remember to copy the activation code from the welcome screen when you first sign on. You'll need it when you set up the app. During setup, you can decide whether to launch Express VPN directly when you sign onto your computer, or manually.

This 3.5-minute video shows you how to download and install ExpressVPN for Windows.

Setting up a VPN on a Mac

Your VPN provider will give you a certificate with instructions where to download the app, which will look something like the screenshot below, which is what ExpressVPN sends to its Mac customers.

set up express vpn on a mac

You can download it to your desktop, downloads folder or wherever you prefer to save downloads. Double click the installation icon and follow the steps to set up your VPN -- it is that easy.

To launch and use your VPN, some programs will require you to go through System Preferences (tap the apple in the upper left, then select System Preferences, then Network) to add your VPN and turn it on manually.

vpn connection through mac system preferences

Select the + symbol in the lower-left corner and tap the drop-down menu and select VPN.

screen shot of adding a vpn to a mac

How to install ExpressVPN on a Mac

With ExpressVPN, everything operates through the app, which is as easy as two clicks -- you don't even have to go through System Prefs. Double click the app to open it, and when it shows you the activation code, copy and save it -- you'll need it during a later step in the setup process.

The app will ask you whether you want to start ExpressVPN automatically when you start your computer; you can always change the setting later. This is what the app looks like when your computer is connected:

express vpn start on desktop

It will choose a "smart location," which is a server-based on your location by default, but you can opt to choose another location.

express vpn browser extension

How to install ExpressVPN on your phone

After you sign up for an account with ExpressVPN, download the ExpressVPN app from Google Play or ExpressVPN: VPN Proxy for WiFi from Apple app store and follow the step-by-step instructions for setting it up on your phone.

Once you've installed it, you can add up to four more devices, and it doesn't matter if they're Apple, Mac or Linux.

expressvpn set up other devices  ExpressVPN activation code

Do you need a VPN for your browser?

You should also explore VPN browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, especially if you use public computers and you want to spoof your location. You'll find free VPN plugins, but if you've got an ExpressVPN account, it comes with extensions for Chrome and Firefox.

You might wonder why you'd need a VPN for your browser if you've got one installed at the device level. Great question.

The browser plugin provides an added layer of protection that includes:

  • Location spoofing
  • WebRTC blocking
  • HTTPS Everywhere

WebRTC blocking prevents other websites from discovering your IP address and location, and HTTPS Everywhere redirects you to secure versions of websites.

What is a VPN and why do I need one?

You've heard the horror stories. Hackers are remotely accessing your laptop and smartphones to steal your ID, money and demand ransom payments.

But what can you do about it? You've heard Kim Komando urge you to use a virtual private network.

Click or tap here to stay protected from hackers!

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